By Isabetta Povoledo, The New York Times, October 26, 2015
VATICAN CITY — Roman Catholic cardinals, patriarchs and bishops from around the world on Monday appealed to climate-change negotiators to approve a “fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement” when they meet at a widely anticipated United Nations conference in Paris next month.
Representatives of the church from five continents signed the appeal in Vatican City. They said it was inspired by Pope Francis’ sweeping encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” issued in June, which forcefully calls for action to stem environmental destruction and climate change.
The prelates’ appeal calls for a “major breakthrough in Paris” that puts “the common good ahead of national interests,” and advances a 10-point policy proposal “drawing on the concrete experience of people across the continents, and linking climate change to social injustice and the social exclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens,” they wrote.
The proposal includes putting “an end to the fossil fuel era,” phasing out emissions by midcentury and providing “affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy access for all.” It also calls for the development of “new models of development and lifestyle.”
Governments must also set limits to global temperature increases, the appeal stated. Decisions made in Paris must be legally binding, the prelates said.
“It’s not a wish or a recommendation but something that is going to tie the hands of governments, we hope,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, India, said at a news conference Monday.
The church has a duty, he said, to bring “ethical considerations” to the forefront of the climate talks in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.
The appeal, Cardinal Gracias said, was a “historic occasion” and the first time that Catholic leaders representing all regional and national bishops conferences had presented a joint appeal.
The reason for the petition was simple, he said: “We are experiencing very much the effects of climate change.”
Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, who is the president of the Federation of Episcopal Conferences of Oceania, said islands had been especially hard hit by climate-induced rising sea levels. “Our life,” in Oceania, “is at stake,” he said.
He called the Paris meeting a critical turning point. “Business as usual is neither viable nor respecting human dignity, cultures that have evolved over ten thousand years will be extinguished,” if Paris fails, he said.
Pope Francis has made care for the environment one of the platforms of his papacy, and the Vatican has organized international conferences to press the issue.
“It’s very important to have a variety of actors like the church who take a stance, because the changes that are required involve much more than decisions at the political and economic level,” said Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, a former vice president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “They involve a cultural change everywhere around the planet. The church can be a very important player in that context.”
The church has also been attuned to the social injustice affected by climate change. “A common rule is that the poor are the most vulnerable while they are also the least responsible for the greenhouse-gas emissions,” Professor van Ypersele said, describing it as a “double injustice.”
But the rich, he said, should not believe that they can escape the impact of climate change. “We all share the same planet, the same boat,” he said. “If we sink to the bottom of the ocean, we all sink together.”